Two teams that are the feeling the pressure to bounce back from a losing season in 2018 will face off this weekend as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play host to the San Francisco 49ers. The game gets underway at 4:25 EST on Sunday, September 8 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Fans in local markets can watch the game on Fox.
The Buccaneers are currently listed as 1-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 50 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s NFL betting odds.
The 49ers were more or less cheated out of being a competitive team in 2018 when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was lost to a season-ending injury in Week 3. There’s no guarantee that San Francisco would have been in the playoff race had Garoppolo been healthy. But the 49ers won their last five games of the 2017 season after Garoppolo took over as the starting quarterback, so he’s clearly a difference-maker when healthy.
The silver lining is that the 49ers got another season to build a better team around their franchise quarterback. That includes grabbing Nick Bosa with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, among other pieces on both sides of the ball. On paper, the 49ers are better right now than they were heading into 2018. That being said, Kyle Shanahan is 10-22 in two seasons as San Francisco’s head coach, so he’ll be under some pressure to get the 49ers to the playoffs this year.
As for the Buccaneers, they are looking for a quick fix after back-to-back 5-11 seasons. After firing Dirk Koetter, the Bucs brought in Bruce Arians as the team’s new head coach. Arians spent just one year retired after a successful five-year run as the head coach of the Cardinals. While he only led the Cardinals to the playoffs twice in five years, Arians was 49-30-1 in Arizona, so he knows how to win.
Despite all of the losing that the Bucs have done the past couple of years, the belief is that there’s enough talent to turn Tampa Bay into a playoff team right away. On the surface, Arians would appear to be a good candidate to make that happen. On the other hand, the Bucs play in a difficult division and will have to overcome three other teams in the NFC South that think they’re going to be Super Bowl contenders in 2019.
As the line indicates, this figures to be a close game that could go either way. Over the long-term, the 49ers intrigue me a little more than the Buccaneers. However, with the 49ers traveling to the east coast and playing in the Florida heat, I think Tampa Bay will have a slight advantage that could pay off in a close game. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me to lean toward the Bucs.
As flawed as Tampa’s defense was last year, the Buccaneers have brought in Todd Bowles and switched to a 3-4 scheme in an effort to fix things. Admittedly, there are a lot of moving pieces that may not fit right away. But the defensive line has plenty of talent and I think Shaquil Barrett and Carl Nassib are viable pass rushers. Moreover, cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis are better fitted for the type of press coverage that Bowles wants to run than the defense Tampa played last year.
Meanwhile, I have several concerns for the San Francisco offense. For starters, Garoppolo is a little less than a year removed from his injury and looked rusty at times during the preseason. More importantly, the 49ers are largely unproven at wide receiver. There’s only so much George Kittle can do at tight end. Dante Pettis made virtually no impact last season and Deebo Samuel is a rookie who may need some time.
The only experienced receiver is Marquise Goodwin, who I don’t view as a no. 1 receiver in any NFL offense. The running game is in good shape with Tevin Coleman and Matt Brieda. But the San Francisco offense looks a little limited right now with regard to pushing the ball downfield.
Of course, the Bucs have plenty of questions about their offense. Jameis Winston has seriously regressed the past two seasons, and he didn’t exactly light it up during the preseason. Plus, the Tampa Bay rushing attack was virtually non-existent last season. That being said, Arians is known as a quarterback guru who may be able to get Winston back on track. If that happens, there should be no doubt that Tampa has the receivers to move the ball and score points, specifically Mike Evans and the tight end tandem of O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. The 49ers gave up nearly 28 points per game last season, so even with some improvement on that side of the ball, they’re a little vulnerable on that side of the ball.
Ultimately, I think the Buccaneers are more likely to move the ball and put points on the scoreboard than the 49ers. Being at home and being more accustomed to the Florida heat should help, particularly in the fourth quarter. Those may be small advantages, but I think they’ll matter in a close game like this.